The Joys of Sticking with a Plan

After meeting up at a shopping center to consolidate into one vehicle, we headed into a windy snowstorm to a campground where we would begin a 10.6 mile roundtrip hike to the summit of historic Cold Mountain (like the book and movie.) A few of the people I went with had camped on this trail when they were in high school and were determined to hike it again before one of them moves to California in a couple of months. The plans for this had been postponed and some decided not to go because of how early we were leaving and the perilous looking weather, but five of us stuck it out. This was either going to be an epic failure full of stories to tell about how insane we were to think about doing it, or it would be an epic success, with equally great stories.

I left my waterproof hiking boots out in Colorado but so far my trail running shoes had done me well in all of my latest hiking adventures, on the drive though I started to get worried while watching the snow stick to the road. When we entered the campground we passed a guy who was chopping wood, smoking, and giving us a look like, “are you guys lost?” We parked at the base of the trail, and layered up. We were a very well prepared group with extra gloves, socks, base layers and shells stuffed into our daypacks. Snow continued to fall a little but the temperature was just at freezing, wasn’t dropping any, and we saw some blue sky peaking out beneath the gray clouds. We started up the trail.

Outside magazine recently wrote about the editor’s choice for “perfect” things for 2013 that includes, gear, trips, books, people, etc. For instance one of the “perfect” things was a rock face scramble, something about not quite being a technical climb and not just a hike but just right. Others include outdoor showers and the perfect hoodie. In future posts I might even refer to more of my choices for what I believe is “perfect.”

During our hike yesterday we added to that list: the crunch of making first tracks on fresh snow – for over five winding miles.

The snow stopped almost as soon as we started up the path single file and got to our first stream crossing. We crunched on, keeping our ear tuned to the sound of the wind and the creaking of the trees. As we kept going we heard the wind whistling and saw the sky continue to clear. At a steady pace we climbed the switchbacks up the unmarked but well worn trail. At one of the stream crossings I did get my toes a little soaked in the cold snow runoff but surprisingly my Mizuno trail running shoes and my north face socks dried out almost completely and I didn’t change socks till we made it back down the mountain! The snow made for some beautiful scenery and we had some fun guessing what animals left their tracks on the trail. Under normal non-snowy conditions this hike is supposed to take six to seven hours round trip so we knew it would take a while, but a couple of spots we thought we had to be nearing the top, but alas we had more switchbacks to make across the ridge. Very suddenly we were trudging through 4-5 inches of fresh powdery snow – perfect for the couple of snowballs I threw! We were hungry but hearing that the wind had died down we were determined to eat our lunches at the summit (plan B was to summit, take a picture, enjoy the view and get to more tree cover to eat lunch.) A little less than three hours after we began, we got to what we thought was the summit, so I brushed the snow off the closest rock with my sleeve and uncovered the plaque to prove it and let out some “woohoos” and high fives!

We took some pictures, enjoyed our lunches and the views from 6,030 feet after three hours and 2,800 feet of steady hiking. We knew the way down was going to be just as technical with the snow and slick spots from snow-melt where the sun reached. We headed down the mountain in near silence, concentrating on every step, following our tracks footprint for footprint on the way we trekked up. A couple of places we came to clearings where the snow had completely melted, and others where the snow had hardened with the afternoon temperature drop. Our legs and knees started to really feel it a few miles down and there were more frequent slips and “close-ones” from all of us. Steadily it took us almost another three hours to get back down, but we were all uninjured, tired, happy, sore, and ready for some beer, chips, guac, chili and Superbowl viewing!

Two more things to add to the “perfect” list: the perfect group to hike with – no complaints, great sense of humor, no daredevils or speed demons, prepared, and willing to start it out and see what happens. And, peeling off sweaty, wet, and dirty socks in order to replace them with warm, dry, clean socks- perfect.

We didn’t quite know what to expect, but we had made a plan to do this hike and wanted to stick with it and we were all so happy that we did. This was my first experience doing a winter hike and I couldn’t be more overjoyed with how it went and the incredible views on the trail. Sticking with this plan ended up being a “perfect” day.

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